"It seems like you've made the next hit sensation, Mr. Goldsworthy."
Elijah Goldsworthy looked from his interviewer out into the sea of fans. Normally they would simply be just people who were trying to enjoy some late night television but Eli knew better. They had advertised very well that he would be here tonight. A very rare few got the honor of getting ahead of line for the autographs, which he would do immediately following the interview.
"I just wanted to take the story to a new place." Eli said, over the still clapping audience. "People who have followed Clara all this time should be-" He paused, noticing the still clapping hands about to abrupt into another applause- "are very pleased that three of my books will now be made into movies."
"Sources say that the inspiration for the character of Clara came from a high school girlfriend." The interviewer said, moving on. "Would you mind telling us a little about that? Or if the rumors are even true?"
Eli took a deep breath. "They're true. Clara was a character that I created for my high school play that I had written. She was based off of a girlfriend who broke up with me. And that's where Clara was born."
"Have you seen or heard from this girl whom Clara is based off of?"
"No." Eli said sadly. "I haven't heard from her since I graduated high school."
"A shame." The interviewer said. "She would probably be very honored."
Eli nodded silently as the interview ended and they went co commercial. He was directed from the interview chair to the place they had set up for the autograph signing. It was a comfortable little corner. He cracked his knuckles and his neck and looked over to the security guards that the television channel had so graciously provided. "All right. I'm ready. Bring them in."
The guards nodded and went to go let then fans that had been selected for this. They came back with only six fans whom lined up and all proved to be very nice and respectful and good fans of the series.
Except when it came down to the sixth and final person.
The woman who looked about to be only a year or two younger than him approached. She held out the book and Eli smiled politely and picked up his pen.
"Who am I signing this to?"
He looked down and placed the tip of the pen on the page when she answered.
"To Clare Edwards."
His heart stopped. He looked up very, very slowly. Afraid that if he moved too quickly, she might vanish like smoke. Very slowly he said, "Beg your pardon?"
"It's been a long time... Eli." She said, her lips tugged into that old smile he had known so well. "But you heard me."
"Clare?" He fought the urge to throw his arms around her and squeeze her until she popped. "What are... Why..."
"I came here to get the autograph of a famous author whom I knew when I was younger." Clare said. She sounded like she was fighting to keep from crying. "Whom I didn't appreciate."
Eli glanced over at the security guards. Surely they would start to get suspicious of why it was taking them so long. "I'm done for the day." Eli called out to them. "Thanks for your help." They traded glances. Eli thought for a moment that they weren't going to take the hint but they nodded and walked down the hall, leaving them alone.
"Are you...are you free to grab a coffee or something?" Eli asked as he stood up. "I would love to catch up with you."
"Yeah." Clare whispered under her breath. "Yeah, that would be great."
He had grabbed his things as quickly as he could. "You don't sound so sure." He observed as he took his keys out of his pocket. "Are you... are you sure you're okay?"
She exhaled deeply. "Yes. I'm fine. This... this is just a lot to absorb."
"What do you mean? Having a coffee with..." He struggled to find the right word. "An old friend?"
As he looked over at her again, he noticed for the second time that she seemed almost one the verge of tears. She kept fighting it, though. Her voices steady although her eyes were watery. "I didn't expect you to be so... welcoming. So willing to jump to talk with me. I thought I could get an autograph and leave you be..."
There it was. Eli finally understood what was bothering her. All this time, almost a decade after he had graduated, Clare was still holding onto that guilt. She must have felt terrible. All this time. "Clare.. Don't get so upset, okay? We'll go grab a coffee and you can tell me how you've been. No need to bring the past up."
But she couldn't leave it there. Try as she might, Clare's defense finally began to crumble. "Eli, I'm sorry. You were the best thing to ever happen to me... but how could I have known? I was only fifteen! I'm twenty-six now and I'm so unhappy!"
"You didn't come for an autograph." Eli said cautiously, catching on. "You wanted to talk."
She nodded, wiping away the three tears she had spilled. "Yes.. Can we just go get that coffee and I'll tell you everything?"
Eli nodded. He led her to the closest coffee shop and ordered them two coffees. He sat down at the nearest table and Clare took the stop opposite him. She took a few sips of her coffee before speaking.
"When you graduated. That's when I had the feeling that things were going downhill for me." She inhaled softly. "Once I moved off to University, that's when the feeling turned into a reality. Jake had gotten accepted into the same University as me. So, we decided that our high school relationship would follow us over into University. Well... during the summer before freshman year, Jake changed. He became angrier. More controlling." Fresh tears began to blur her vision. "He blamed it on our parents relationship. He made such terrible remarks about me and one day during the freshman year, he finally became abusive. Physically and verbally."
"He hit you?" Eli said incredulously. "Why didn't you leave him?"
"I was afraid!" Clare said, the tears spilling onto her cheeks. "By the time junior year of University approached, he was talking marriage to our parents."
Before she could go on, Eli frowned. "Clare... please... Tell me you left him..."
"After I had graduated, and I mean immediately after I graduated, I married him. I had no choice because I was afraid that he would bludgeon me to death if I said no."
Eli looked down.
"I've suffered so much since you've been gone, Eli." Clare said sadly, reaching for his hand. "I've seen that you've done quite well for yourself. Are you married?"
Eli hated that she had changed the subject so abruptly. He didn't want to cause her anymore distress so he simply shook his head. "No. A few girlfriends her and there but nothing as serious as marriage."
You don't want to know why. Eli thought to himself darkly. The pain you caused me still ripples through to today. "I've had my own battles." Eli said for her benefit. "Being a hoarder and having OCD at such a young age isn't exactly husband material to most women." Neither was the small drinking problem that had developed when he was finally of age. It was another point against him. "But I've been okay without a wife."
Clare, even after all these years, knew him better than that. "You're still punishing yourself." She said, looking into his eyes and try as he might, he couldn't look away. "Oh, Eli.."
She had reached for his hand again when her phone began to ring.
She answered almost immediately.
"Where the hell are you?" came the voice that Eli suspected must be Jake Martin.
"I'm... I'm at the store. Like I said I was." Clare said, rustiling through her pocketbook. "The line is so long."
Eli realized that she was pretending to be at the store to fool her husband. He shook his head helplessly as Jake's voice rose. He was only getting angrier. She said that she would come back to the store when she was with him and pick the items back up. She hung up and wiped the tears from her eyes.
"I'm so sorry, Eli. I have to go." She said and held out her hand. "It was so nice seeing you again."
Eli looked at her hand as if it was some kind of foreign object. He stood up and wrapped his arms around her. "I've missed you, Clare. Please. Can I give you my number?"
She blinked back tears and nodded mutely.
He scribbled his number onto a napkin and gave it to her with a faint smile.
She barely managed to smother a sob as she turned and hurried away.